Posts Tagged ‘transfer print ware’

Flow Blue

August 19, 2012

History never repeats itself.  It just rhymes.  Example, the trajectory of blue and white pottery.  Arab attempts to duplicate Chinese porcelain resulted in tin glazed enamel earthenware.  When Arabs added cobalt blue decoration, Chinese porcelain was forever changed – all this thanks to Kublai Khan’s globalization zeal.  Enter the Europeans, hooked from the first anchor dropped in Macao harbor.  Their quest for easily reproducible porcelain (or white clay, anyway) eventually led to Wedgwood’s “Creamware.”  Then to whiter “Pearlware.”  Then to even whiter “Ironstone.”  (An abridged history, but there it is.)

Blue was the spice that fed this circular feeding frenzy.  What emerged was the ultimate in English blue and white transfer printed ironstone.  At it’s best the cobalt saturated transfer print ink made the designs barely distinguishable.  Intensity incarnate.  “Flow Blue.”

Was this just a happy accident?  Cobalt easily “bleeds” in the glaze melt if you’re not careful.  But the subject of blue and white’s addictive appeal fills entire libraries.  That appeal was in full swing long before Flow Blue appeared.  Additional ammonia and calcium in the ink made the blue really flow.  There was nothing accidental about it.  But Stoke-on-Trent potters who began this madness were happy that Flow Blue hid faults in decoration, glazing and firing.

Some Flow Blue was indistinguishable from regular transfer print ware, blue but hardly ‘flown’ at all.  Such variations merely exemplified how the period’s myriad decorative styles were driven by economics; mass production begat mass marketing which begat mass consumerism.  The result?  A fundamental change in how we approached the dinner table, how we took our tea.

Flow Blue has been called a “poor man’s china.”  But price lists of the time belie this notion.  Flow Blue was the most expensive transfer print pottery up to the 1850’s.  Flow Blue stood out from the crowd.  It spanned the arc of Queen Victoria’s rule, if not (entirely) epitomizing Victorian decorative values.  (Flow Blue: 1825 – 1910, Queen Victoria 1837 – 1901.)

Post script:

The other day I added to my meager “poor man’s” collection of early pottery with a set of cracked, chipped Flow Blue plates (Joseph Heath, “Tonquin” pattern, 1840-1850).  Super cheap because of the cracks.  But they are addictive.  I feel their presence without even looking at them.  They sit on my shelf, a throbbing reminder of a time when pottery defined an era.

Flow Blue Plate

Readings:
Flow Blue.  A Collector’s Guide to Patterns, History, and Values.  Jeffery Snyder.  Schiffer/Atglen PA.  2004.

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History.  Josiah Wedgwood.  McBride Nast & Co./New York & London.  1913.

 

1840

September 12, 2010

Years ago I would have yawned at the pitcher shown here. 11″ tall,  slip-cast, transfer print yellow ware, made by David Henderson’s American Pottery Company in Jersey City, NJ, 1840.  A crass, stuffy, Victorian frivolity.  Now it stops me in my tracks… Harrison Transfer Print Pitcher

One reason; it’s a technical tour-de-force.  This pitcher was essentially made out of scratch.  With a few notable but limited exceptions, we had no ceramic supply companies in 1840.  Henderson and his contemporaries were tenacious geniuses.

Liverpool had previously flooded the US with similar wares.  Many here tried to duplicate them.  Henderson, himself a cast-off of the English pottery world, claimed first success – initiating America’s mass-produced pottery era.  Others contested his claims.  But they were all operating at roughly the same time; they were all on the cutting edge of what was possible in American ceramics in the early decades of the 19th century.

Another reason for my reaction; the pitcher’s iconography.  The imagery relates to William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential bid.  A log cabin, a slogan “The Ohio Farmer,” Harrison, and an eagle.

Previous candidates lobbied party bosses in smoke filled rooms, public speeches being uncouth.  Harrison didn’t just “speechify.”  He hurdled insults at incumbent Martin Van Buren (“Marty Van Ruin”).  He re-invented his own background (“born in a log cabin”).  He coined slogans (“The Ohio Farmer”).  He milked alliances with big business (whiskey magnate E.C. Booze bankrolled his campaign and popularized a drinking term).  He pioneered the “whistle stop” train tour and plastered his face on newly available locally made transfer print ware.

Harrison won, then died of pneumonia a month after giving his inaugural speech in a blizzard.  The blue-blood Harrison probably never saw the inside of a log cabin.  He was an “Ohio Farmer” with thousands of acres, all managed by underlings.  In short, he was a multi millionaire posing as a good ol’ boy you’d want to have a hard cider with and vote for (they don’t all come from Texas).  Boisterous public self promotion, total self re-imaging, slander, spin, collusion – the inception of the modern presidential campaign.

Is there redemption in this story?  The Abolitionists noted Harrison’s success.  Soon they would flood the marketplace with ceramic nick-nacks decrying the evils of slavery.  And there at the beginning was our little pitcher…

…A Victorian frivolity?  More like a 500 pound gorilla.

Readings:
Ceramics in America, 2002. Robert Hunter, Ed.  Chipstone Press/Hanover and London.  2002.

Anglo-American Ceramics, Part 1 Transfer Printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American Market, 1760-1860. Arman, David and Linda.  Oakland Press/Portsmouth, RI.(1998)

American Patriotic and Political China. Marian Klamkin.  Scribner’s and Sons/New York.  1973.